Rachel Clairborne is a blonde beauty but, tired of being judged on her appearance, she's never let a man close. For the moment she's focused on finding her mother, who abandoned her family for the sultry paradise island of St. Antoine.
But soon St. Antoine works its dark magic on Rachel, too, in the shape of irresistible Matt Brody. For the first time ever, she wants to give herself to a man. But Rachel can only look, not let herself be touched...because Matt clearly knows something about her missing mother....
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
May 01, 2012
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Excerpt from A Wild Surrender by Anne Mather
'This yo' first trip to St Antoine?'
Rachel dragged her eyes away from the exotic sight of hibiscus growing wild beside the airport buildings to give the taxi driver a slightly dazed look.
'What? Oh--oh, yes. It's my first visit to the Caribbean,' she admitted ruefully. 'I can hardly believe I'm here.'
And wasn't that the truth? she conceded silently. A week ago she'd had no intention of taking an unplanned break in these semi-tropical surroundings. But that had been before her father broke the news that her mother had left him. Sara Claiborne had apparently abandoned her home and her husband to fly out to the small island of St Antoine to visit a man she'd known many years ago.
'Did she say when she was coming back?'
Rachel's first thought had been a practical one, but her father had been uncharacteristically morose.
'Don't you mean if she's coming back?' he'd mumbled bitterly. 'And if she doesn't I don't know what I'm going to do.'
Rachel had felt out of her depth. Although she'd always believed her parents' marriage was rock-solid, occasionally she'd sensed a certain ambivalence in their treatment of each other. On top of which, her mother's attitude towards her had generally made her feel that it wasn't her problem. And if that was a little hard to take at times, she'd assumed it was simply a case of their different attitudes towards life.
Still, she had believed that Sara and Ralph Claiborne loved one another, and that, unlike lots of their friends and neighbours, their marriage was unlikely to be torn apart by rows or infidelity.
But what did she know, really? At age thirty she was still unmarried and a virgin, so any judgements she made were hardly the result of experience.
'So who is this man?' she'd asked, but her father had been carefully reticent on that point.
'His name's Matthew Brody,' had been all he'd say in response. 'He's someone she knew--years ago, as I say.' He'd paused, before exploding his next bombshell. 'I want you to go after her, Rachel. I want you to bring her home.'
Rachel had stared at him disbelievingly. 'Me?' she'd exclaimed ungrammatically. 'Why can't you go after her yourself?'
'Because I can't.' Ralph Claiborne had regarded her from beneath lowered lids. 'I just can't do it. Surely you can understand that, Rachel? What would I do if she turned me away?'
The same as me, I suppose, thought Rachel unhappily, but she could see where this was going. Whoever this man was, her father saw him as a threat to their relationship--and how could she refuse to help him when there was evidently so much at stake?
It troubled her that her mother had chosen to meet this man on an island in the Caribbean. But when she'd asked her father about this, he'd explained that Matthew Brody lived on St Antoine. It troubled her, too, that she'd never sensed the distance that must have been growing between her parents for such a potentially devastating situation to develop.
But then, she'd never been particularly close to her mother. They didn't share the same interests or like the same things. It was different with her father, but perhaps she hadn't expected as much from him.
Rachel sighed as she remembered the rest of the conversation. Her own pleas that she couldn't just walk out on her job at the local newspaper had fallen on stony ground.
'I'll have a word with Don,' said her father at once. 'I'll explain that Sara needs a break and, as I can't leave the office right now, I've asked you to take my place. He can't object to you taking a couple of weeks' unpaid holiday. Not after you've kept going when half his staff have been down with flu.'
'I've been lucky,' Rachel had protested, but it had been no use.
She knew that because Don Graham, the editor at the paper, and her father had gone to school together. Ralph Claiborne considered he was responsible for her getting a job there in the first place. And perhaps he was, although Rachel preferred not to believe it. She had been straight out of college, it was true, but with a good degree in English, and computer skills, she liked to think she'd got the job on her own merits.
Needless to say her father had been as good as his word. The following morning Don Graham had called her into his office and told her that another girl would be taking over her duties in the advertising department from now on.
'Your father says your mother hasn't been well all winter,' he'd said, and Rachel had felt her face burning. 'I'm giving you a couple of weeks' compassionate leave. Just don't make a habit of it, you hear?'
So here she was, over three thousand miles from home, without the faintest notion of how she was going to handle the situation. She was still sure her mother loved her father, but she didn't know how that love would fare in the face of another attachment. And who was this other attachment--this Matthew Brody? And why did Rachel feel such a sense of foreboding at the prospect of seeing her mother again?
'You here for a holiday?'
The taxi driver was speaking again, and Rachel knew he was only trying to be friendly. But, goodness, how could she answer that question when what she felt was that she was on the edge of a precipice with no practical means of getting down?
'Um--a holiday?' She licked her dry lips. 'Yes, I suppose so.'
It wasn't the right answer. She could see that in the dark eyes that met hers in the rearview mirror. The man's expression was both curious and wary, and she guessed he was wondering what kind of kook he was driving.
To distract herself, she turned her attention back to the view. Beyond the environs of the small inter-island airport, the road was narrow and unpaved. But the sight of the ocean creaming onto almost white sands below the thick grasses that grew on the clifftop was a definite lift to her spirits. Whatever else, she was being given a totally new--totally unexpected--experience, and she should try and get as much out of it as she could.
She'd never even heard of St Antoine before her father mentioned it to her. It was one of a small group of islands off the coast of Jamaica. Near the Caymans, but not part of them. A handful of mountains and reefs and jewel-bright vegetation where, according to her father, the only industries were a little sugar cane and coffee and, of course, tourism.
'You stayin' long?'
At least Rachel could be honest about that. Well, providing her mother didn't send her packing the minute she saw her. That was always a possibility, and Rachel didn't know if she had a strong enough motivation to stay on under those circumstances.
Though she could, she reminded herself consideringly. Her father had booked her into St Antoine's only hotel and there was no reason why she should waste the reservation.
She'd been lucky to get it, and only because someone else had cancelled at the last moment.
'You keen on water sports, miss?'
The driver was determined to learn more about her, and Rachel pulled a wry face.
'I like swimming,' she admitted, not sure what else he was referring to. Unless it was snorkelling. She had tried that once in Spain.
'Not much else to do on St Antoine,' he persisted. 'We got no movie theatres or nightclubs. Not a lot of call for stuff like that.'
'I would suppose not,' murmured Rachel, a cynical smile pulling down the corners of her mouth.
Well, he'd lasted a full ten minutes before making an oblique reference to her appearance. She doubted the elderly taxi driver was interested in her, but the fact remained he had already associated her with the kind of nightlife more readily found in Havana or Kingston.
She grimaced. A lifetime--an adult lifetime, anyway--of parrying personal comments and sexual innuendo had taught her to ignore all references to her face and figure. So she was almost six feet tall, blonde, with full breasts and long legs? But what of it? She didn't like the way she looked or the way men looked at her. Which was probably why she was still single, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
When she was younger, she'd used to worry about her height and her appearance. She'd used to wish she was shorter, smaller, darker. More like her mother. Anything to avoid standing out in a crowd of girls her own age.
But her years at college had convinced her that boys never looked beyond the obvious. She was a blonde, therefore she was a bimbo. With an IQ no bigger than her bust size.
'Is it far to town?' she asked, leaning forward, deciding to take advantage of the man's garrulousness to ask some questions of her own.
'Not far,' he replied, swinging out to pass a mule-drawn cart. It was loaded with banana plants that hung precariously over its sides. He beeped his horn and the mule jerked nervously.
'You stayin' at the Tamarisk, yeah?'
'That's right.' Rachel was grateful to discuss her destination. 'It's just a small hotel, I believe. I suppose it will be busy at this time of the year?'
'Oh, sure.' The man nodded expansively, turning the wheel of the car. The little statue of the Madonna that was suspended above his mirror swung in sympathy. 'Janu'ry, Febru'ry--they's our busiest months. 'Course, we do get visitors in summer, but when it's winter in the UK and the United States, that's when we get most tourists.' He paused. 'Like yourself.'
Rachel absorbed this, but she didn't comment. She was wondering how she could get around to mentioning Matthew Brody's name. It was a small island, and a small population. Surely it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that he might have heard of the man?
The road that had been riding along the cliff now swung inland, and Rachel stared at the thickly wooded vegetation covering the land that rose on the right. Trees and shrubs, ferns and bushes, all exploding with colour. Even in the late afternoon, the brilliance of the sunlight was dazzling.
They were nearing the small town of St Antoine, she realised. Outlying dwellings, some of them with a plot of land given over to either cattle or crops, bordered the road, and presently an occasional store boasted signs that read 'Fresh Sandwiches' or 'Home-made Ice-cream'.
Now the road was divided into two lanes by a belt of palm trees. Rachel could see shops and houses with bougainvillea dripping from every roof and balcony. She glimpsed frangipani and oleander behind iron railings, and lots of West Indian faces peering at her as the taxi drove by.
'Um--I don't suppose you know a man called Brody?' she ventured at last, realising she couldn't afford to waste any more time. They'd be at the hotel soon and any chance would be lost.
'You mean Jacob Brody?' The taxi driver didn't wait for her to correct him before going on. 'Sure, everyone knows Jacob Brody. Seein' as how he and his son own most of the island.'
Rachel's eyes widened. Her father had told her nothing about the Brodys at all. Somehow she'd got the impression that this man--Matthew Brody--was some kind of playboy. That he and her mother must have had an affair.
She'd been about to ask if Matthew Brody was related to Jacob when the taxi turned between wrought-iron gates. Ahead, she could see what she assumed was the Tamarisk Hotel. A two-storeyed stucco-painted structure, with a fountain playing on the forecourt out front.
'This is it.'
Her driver, a barrel-chested man, with a luxuriant moustache and cornrows, thrust open his door and got out. Then, after swinging the passenger door open for Rachel, he walked round to the rear of the vehicle to haul her suitcase out of the boot.
Rachel followed him and thrust a handful of dollars into his palm. She never knew how much to tip people, but judging by the man's expression she'd overdone it this time.
'You know the Brodys?' the man asked, evidently associating her generosity with the man he'd spoken of, but Rachel shook her head.
'No,' she said, not wanting to get into a discussion. 'I can manage,' she added, when he would have carried her suitcase into the hotel. She pulled up the handle on the case to demonstrate, and then towed it after her as she walked away. 'Thank you.'
'My pleasure.' The driver stuffed the bills into his pocket. 'Yo' want anything else while you're here, yo' just let Aaron know.' He nodded towards the hotel. 'They got my number.'
Rachel doubted she'd take him up on it, but she cast him a polite smile over her shoulder. However, privately she was thinking that she'd have to be more diligent with her cash. She couldn't afford to go throwing money around, whatever happened here.
Two shallow steps that stretched along the front of the building led up to a wide verandah. Cane chairs and tables sheltered beneath the shadow of an awning, and tall columns were wound about with flowering vines. She entered into a marble-tiled foyer, where more flowers rioted from tubs and urns.
The reception desk was immediately ahead of her, but, glancing up, she saw that the second-floor rooms all opened onto a curving balcony that swept around the upper floor. The ceiling of the reception area was open to an airy atrium, and although there didn't appear to be a lift a staircase hugged the outer wall.
A pretty West Indian girl was in charge of the reception desk, and as there were few people about at the moment she watched Rachel's approach with a critical eye. Rachel doubted there was any aspect of her appearance that had gone unnoticed, but she was used to ignoring that kind of attention.
'Hi, there, welcome to the Tamarisk,' the girl said, her smile as practised as her manner. 'You have a reservation, Ms--er--'
'Claiborne,' said Rachel pleasantly. 'Yes, it was just made a few days ago.' 'Of course.'
The girl's voice had the slow, attractive drawl of the islands that Rachel had already noticed at the airport. And while she brought up Rachel's booking on the computer, Rachel took the time to examine her surroundings more fully.
The hotel was small, it was true, but it was very attractive. Not least because of the white stone pillars that supported the balcony, and the airy brightness of its public rooms. There was a pleasant scent of spices and sweetness. The air outside had been close and humid, but here the layout of the foyer allowed a cross breeze that cooled her skin.